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I've being doing some research regarding how to present a good quality technical document (to be more specific, a PhD Thesis).

It seems to me there is some consensus regarding the fonts (as described in What font types are good for a technical document? and Fonts for technical reports), which makes me very happy because I really like when standards are around.

So, since my thesis is in biomedical engineering, I've come to two conclusions: to use Times New Roman and to set the main font at 12pt (most of my readers are over 40 years old).

Now what I need to know as one of the most general characteristics is what the text block should be. I've read some Tschichold's guidelines, and it can be summarized like this:

textwidth=0.66666667\paperwidth,%
inner=0.123\paperwidth,% (inner margin)
textheight=0.666666667\paperheight,%
bottom=0.22222222\paperheight,%
headheight=1em,%

(Look here for a graphical description)

Now, it seems that is somewhat The Standard (although yesterday I was in a bookstore and I didn't see any book following Tschichold's scheme) for writing books, but is it OK to assume this should be the layout for a technical document? If not, what other set of rules can I follow?

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look at other documents from your department. The reason you are having trouble identifying a standard, especially in the bookstore, is that there is no standard. Graphic Design is an art, not a science. We could cite studies about preferences etc, but they are really an attempt at bracketing an almost completely subjective subject in an objective manner. You will still be left with subjective leeway to get things done. If you need a rule, get some hardcopy and use a ruler. 12 pt seems reasonable. Margins and spacing are dictated by space, money and use requirements. (e.g grading/copyediting) –  horatio Nov 1 '13 at 16:19
1  
I just finished reading some academic papers and I implore you: please do not justify the text. It makes it a task to read and much harder to register what you're reading with irregular flow caused by irregular word spacing. It is/has been a standard for a long time, but standards are not always the best course of action. –  Mr E. Upvoter Nov 1 '13 at 16:22
    
@horatio I'm in Portugal, so I'd say A4 paper and... that's about the only limitation –  Mario S. E. Nov 1 '13 at 16:22
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@Dominic I'm using LaTeX to get everything justified, but correctly justified :). There aren't any ugly spacings –  Mario S. E. Nov 1 '13 at 16:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

(Moved from comment)
look at other documents from your department. The reason you are having trouble identifying a standard, especially in the bookstore, is that there is no standard. Graphic Design is an art, not a science. We could cite studies about preferences etc, but they are really an attempt at bracketing an almost completely subjective subject in an objective manner. You will still be left with subjective leeway to get things done. If you need a rule, get some hardcopy and use a ruler. 12 pt seems reasonable. Margins and spacing are dictated by space, money and use requirements. (e.g grading/copyediting)


some pseudo-typical measurements for books:

  • .375-.675 (inches) margins
  • gutter margin larger by .75x
  • gutter margin smaller by .75x
  • bottom margin larger than top margin by 1.2x-1.5x
  • 1.2x type size as line spacing (leading) for body text
  • header lines 1.2x-1.5x the type size of the type size one step lower in content hierarchy.
  • captions .75x-1x body text size, with line height 1x-1.2x caption text size
  • runaround for inset images: 1x body type size left/right; .5x body text size top/bottom

I'll add for a 3rd time: if your department has a style guide use it. It may be required. If you are submitting to a journal, they have guidelines. Use them.

In those cases, the decisions are being made for you.

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No, they don't have any guidelines. They are hoping mines become the school's standard –  Mario S. E. Nov 1 '13 at 16:33
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I am sure someone will come along and point out things they would do differently than what is in my list. This only serves to highlight the "art" nature of the endeavor. I will add that I probably break these rules as often as I accidentally conform to them –  horatio Nov 1 '13 at 16:35
    
If it is you setting the standard, it may be useful for others for your standard to be close to the standard(s) used for journals and publications they might be expected to make submission to. –  horatio Nov 1 '13 at 16:37
    
That's precisely why I sticked to Times New Roman: it's the standard for our type of papers. –  Mario S. E. Nov 1 '13 at 16:38
    
Could you pleasea add a comment regarding Tschichold's rules? Do they still apply today? Are they good to follow in a document like this, or should they be left for novels? –  Mario S. E. Nov 1 '13 at 16:57

The layout of a technical document depends on the document.

If you have a lot of pages with less tables, images, ... but a lot of text you should choose a font which is good for mass text. In my eyes it should be a font with serifes and ligatures (fi, ff, ffl, ...) for a better and easier reading. I would never choose Times New Roman, because this font is too small (used to print a newspaper, so narrow letters, no mass text). Better is Latin Modern or Libertine.

If you have only a few pages it could be better to use a font without serifes. But in my eyes this ends if you have more than three pages ... For poster it is better to use sans seriefe fonts ...

To get a proper european layout use with LaTeX KOMA-Script, for example class scrbook, giving you a perfect type setting area (simular to that Tschichold told) on A4 paper. Choose the fontsize for your mass text as you like: 10 pt, 11 pt (standard in KOMA-Script) or 12 pt. You can change the width of the margins with the option DIV for your used document class. The font size of title and headings depends on the font size of your mass text and is well choosed with KOMA-Script ...

On many universities you will get short papers how you have to write a thesis. Theese papers are usually made by people knowing nothing about a good typographie and so using old "rules" developed for the using of the old fashioned type writer maschines (German: Schreibmaschinen). Show your professor a well build document with LaTeX (not using the old rules) and he will accept it ...

Conclusion: a thesis with 60 pages is more like a book (with a lot of mass text) than a short technical document (how to use your mobile, car, ...) and you should use the "rules" developed by Mr. Gutenberg in 15xx, simular to the rules of Jan Tschichold.

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What I don't like of lmodern is its numbers. They seem to be ones (3, 4, 5, 7, 9) that have kind of an "offset". Linux Libertine seems nice, though. How will they behave with math? (I'm using the amsmath package, I'm not sure if this will automatically change tha font back to Times) –  Mario S. E. Nov 2 '13 at 12:44
    
@MarioS.E. You can combine Linux Libertine with other fonts, no problem. You just have to load to right package. This is, for example, documented in the documentation of Libertine on CTAN. –  Kurt Nov 2 '13 at 17:30

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